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Cynthia Chevalier v. Civil Service Employees Association

March 31, 2011

CYNTHIA CHEVALIER, DEBORAH GRAY, HAROLD GRAY, AND DARCY DEGEORGIA, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
CIVIL SERVICE EMPLOYEES ASSOCIATION, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Scullin, Senior Judge

MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

Currently before the Court is Plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction*fn1 ordering Defendant to (1) restore Plaintiffs to their elected positions within the Civil Service Employees' Union Local 847 ("Local 847") and the Schenectady County Community College Unit ("SCCC Unit"), (2) restrain from taking any further action that usurps the decision making authority of the union members and restrain from discriminating based upon these members' exercise of free speech, and (3) reinstate Plaintiffs and allow them to benefit from their membership in the union and remove the unauthorized Trusteeship/Administratorship. See Dkt. No. 5-7 at 1.*fn2 Also before the Court is Defendant's cross-motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment. See Dkt. No. 7-7.

II. BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs are all former members of Defendant. Plaintiff Cynthia Chevalier served as Treasurer for Local 847 -- a local branch of Defendant serving the greater Schenectady area -- for nearly ten years. See Complaint at ¶ 5; see also Affidavit of Cynthia Chevalier sworn to April 8, 2010 ("Chevalier Aff."), at ¶ 3. Plaintiff Deborah Gray served as Local 847's Secretary, and Plaintiff Harold Gray served as its First Vice President during the relevant time period. See Complaint at ¶¶ 6-7. Plaintiff Darcy DeGeorgia served as the Unit President for the SCCC Unit during the relevant time period. See id. at ¶ 8.

Plaintiffs were long-standing critics of both the Schenectady City School District Unit's ("SCSD Unit") President ,Steven Raucci and Local 847's President, Joanne DeSarbo. See id. at ¶ 11. Plaintiffs Deborah Gray, Harold Gray and Chevalier met with CSEA Region 4 President, Kathleen Garrison, on at least six separate occasions between 2000 and March 2009, during which "Plaintiffs had vociferously objected [to] Ms. DeSarbo's use of Local 847 resources for her own personal benefit." See id. at ¶ 12. Moreover, during these meetings, Plaintiffs also "objected to Steven Raucci's dual role as an upper-level manager for the Schenectady City School District, while simultaneously holding a 'straw' civil service title of Head Utility Worker." See id. at ¶ 13. Plaintiffs' objections became even more strenuous when Mr. Raucci began using his position as President of the SCSD Unit for his own personal benefit and to the Unit's members' detriment. See id. at ¶ 14.

For example, Plaintiffs informed Ms. Garrison that Mr. Raucci would use threats, intimidation and actual violence to dissuade SCSD Unit Members from complaining about his "leadership techniques." See id. at ¶ 15. Plaintiffs complained that this conduct included refusing to process grievances on behalf of SCSD Unit members, threatening to physically harm members and their families for questioning his authority, conspiring with school officials to restrain the collective bargaining rights of SCSD Unit members, and forcing SCSD Unit members to vote for certain candidates for office within the CSEA hierarchy. See id. at ¶ 16.

Moreover, Plaintiffs allege that Ms. Garrison sought Mr. Raucci's and Ms. DeSarbo's assistance in running for re-election as the CSEA Region 4 President in 2008. See id. at ¶ 17. Mr. Raucci forced the SCSD Unit's members to vote for Ms. Garrison; and, in return for that support, Ms. Garrison took steps to silence Plaintiffs' criticisms of Mr. Raucci and Ms. DeSarbo. See id. at ¶¶ 18-20. For example, Ms. Garrison introduced a motion at CSEA's Statewide Committee in July 2008 to disqualify Plaintiff Harold Gray from holding elected office within the CSEA. See id. at ¶ 21. Plaintiffs allege that the purpose of this application was to silence Plaintiffs' dissension as to Local 847's leadership. See id. at ¶ 22.

Beginning in 2007, Plaintiff Deborah Gray assisted the New York State Organized Crime Task Force that had formed to investigate Local 847 and Mr. Raucci. See Affidavit of Deborah Gray sworn to April 8, 2010 ("Deborah Gray Aff."), at ¶ 32; see also Complaint at ¶ 29. On February 20, 2009, Mr. Raucci was arrested. See Deborah Gray Aff. at ¶ 34.

On February 23, 2009, Plaintiffs were notified that Local 847 was being placed in Trusteeship because of Mr. Raucci's arrest. See id. at ¶ 33. Plaintiffs opposed forming the Trusteeship because they believed that it was inconsistent with the remedy needed for Local 847, and it failed to address the fact that money was missing from one of Local 847's subunits. See id. at ¶ 35. Moreover, Plaintiffs contended that the Trusteeship was simply a means for Defendant to entrench a slate of its own candidates "while wiping previous officials . . . out of office." See id. at ¶ 36. For example, Plaintiffs asserted that, out of the eight (8) units placed in Trusteeship, they were the only ones precluded from continuing to represent their unit's members. See id. at ¶ 37. Local President Joanne DeSarbo, however, was afforded the opportunity to continue operating in her de facto role, notwithstanding the Trusteeship and despite the fact that both Plaintiffs and the New York State Organized Crime Task Force had raised serious concerns about missing Department of Social Services ("DSS") Unit funds. See Complaint at ¶¶ 27-29.

In the SCC Unit, however, Plaintiffs Deborah Gray and DeGeorgia were replaced in their representative capacities by the two individuals whom they had defeated in the previous election. See id. at ¶ 30.

Nearly six months after the Trusteeship was created, Plaintiffs Deborah Gray, Harold Gray and Chevalier were served with internal disciplinary charges that alleged irregularities found when Local 847 was audited. See Complaint at ¶ 33. The alleged irregularities included an allegation that they provided advance payment for travel expenses without first securing a promissory note from the paid officers and that Local 847's Officers' salaries were "grossed-up."*fn3

See id. at ¶¶ 34-35. Plaintiffs claim that the Local's Executive Committee, Special Budget Committee and the CSEA had approved this "grossing-up" methodology for nearly ten-years and that this method was specifically disclosed in all of the Local's accounting forms and submitted to Defendant for approval. See id. at ¶ 38.

Plaintiffs assert that they opposed these charges with "voluminous evidence" and established that the practice of grossing-up violated no CSEA rule or regulation. See Deborah Gray Aff. at ¶ 54. Plaintiffs allege that the hearing that Defendant afforded them was a sham; and, in fact, one of Defendant's staff attorneys represented the "independent" judicial board, as well as Defendant's sole witness against them. See Complaint at ¶ 39. After finding Plaintiffs Deborah Gray, Harold Gray and Chevalier guilty of misconduct, "they were ordered to kick-back their wages to the Union and accept a suspension from holding elective office or be expelled." See id. at ¶ 40. Plaintiffs administratively appealed the decision, but the CSEA expelled them without completing the appeals process. See id. at ¶ 41. Moreover, Defendant immediately cancelled Plaintiff Deborah Gray's life insurance and disability policies, which she had received as a benefit of membership. See id. at ¶ 42. At the time that Defendant cancelled her policies, Plaintiff Deborah Gray was in the process of applying for disability benefits. See id. at ¶ 43.

On April 15, 2010, Plaintiffs filed their complaint asserting four causes of action under the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act ("LMRDA") and one supplemental state-law cause of action. Specifically, Plaintiffs alleged (1) free speech retaliation in violation of 29 U.S.C. § 411(a)(2); (2) denial of equal rights and privileges of membership in violation of 29 U.S.C. § 411(a)(1); (3) denial of the right to a basic fair hearing in violation of 29 U.S.C. § 411(a)(5); (4) imposition of an illegal Trusteeship in violation of 29 U.S.C. § 462; and (5) a violation of New York Labor Law § 215. See id. at 44-65.

III. DISCUSSION

A. Plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction

1. Standard

"The district court has wide discretion in determining whether to grant a preliminary injunction[.]" Moore v. Consol. Edison Co. of N.Y., Inc., 409 F.3d 506, 511 (2d Cir. 2005 (citations omitted). It is well-settled that "[a] 'party seeking a preliminary injunction must demonstrate '(1) irreparable harm in the absence of the injunction and (2) either (a) a likelihood of success on the merits or (b) sufficiently serious questions going to the merits to make them a fair ground for litigation and a balance of hardships tipping decidedly in the movant's favor.'" MyWebGrocer, LLC v. Hometown Info, Inc., 375 F.3d 190, 192 (2d Cir. 2004) (quoting Merkos L'inyonei Chinuch, Inc. v. Otsar Sifrei Lubavitch, Inc., 312 F.3d 94, 96 (2d Cir. 2002)). However, where the moving party requests a "mandatory" preliminary injunction -- that is, one that alters the status quo by commanding some positive act, as opposed to just maintaining the status quo -- or if the injunction will provide the moving party with "'substantially all the relief sought and that relief cannot be undone even if the defendant prevails at a trial on the merits,'" the moving party "must satisfy a higher standard, by showing a clear or substantial likelihood of success[.]" Bose Corp. v. Silonsonnic Corp., 413 F. Supp. 2d 339, 341 (S.D.N.Y. 2006) (quoting Tom Doherty Assoc., Inc. v. Saban Entm't, Inc., 60 F.3d 27, 33-34 (2d Cir. 1995)) (other citation omitted).

Although initially requesting a mandatory preliminary injunction, Plaintiffs have altered their request and now only seek to enjoin the elections of the newly formed CSEA Local 885 and its subordinate units, to which Plaintiffs allege that they would belong but for Defendant's actions. See Dkt. No. 9-2 at 1. As such, Plaintiffs are merely seeking to maintain the status quo and do not need to satisfy the higher standard of "clear or substantial likelihood of success."

2. Irreparable harm

Defendant asserts that Plaintiffs cannot show irreparable harm because, even though Plaintiffs are barred from union membership, which includes not being eligible to vote in union elections, if Plaintiffs succeed, the Court can void the existing ...


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